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Sierra Club calls on Gov. Brown to revise global warming plan

May 11, 2011 |  8:04 pm

Valero_refinery_night02
The Sierra Club of California, the state’s oldest and largest environmental group, called on Gov. Jerry Brown this week to substantially rewrite the cap-and-trade program for greenhouse gases that former  Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger considered to be his greatest legacy.

The trading system, which would curb emissions from 600 California industrial plants, is the centerpiece of the state’s 2006 global warming law, AB 32. Scheduled to take effect in January, it would be the nation’s most extensive program to cut carbon dioxide and other gases that are trapping heat in earth’s atmosphere.

However, in a letter to the governor released Wednesday, Sierra Club California Director Bill Magavern called Brown “well-suited to the task of scrutinizing and revising the cap-and-trade rule adopted by the previous administration. The rule has some serious flaws that will limit its effectiveness in reducing emissions and generating green jobs.”

Among the club’s complaints: industrial plants would be allowed to avoid curbing their own pollution by purchasing offsets from out of state, and possibly foreign-nation projects that reduce carbon dioxide emissions in other ways. “Excessive reliance on offsets could open up loopholes that undermine the very purposes of California’s AB 32 cap on emissions,” the letter said. “Curbing global warming will require a fundamental transformation of our energy economy, a task that cannot be outsourced to other countries.

“Requiring California’s largest polluters to reduce their own emissions will spur technological advances that can be exported to the rest of the world, bringing green jobs to the Golden State. If polluters are allowed to outsource their emissions reductions to other sectors and jurisdictions, the clean-energy revolution will be delayed,” the club declared.

Corporate executives prefer the market-based trading system as a cheaper, more flexible way for them to cut carbon emissions than direct plant-by-plant regulations, which is how other pollutants are traditionally controlled.

The California program, designed to link to those of several Canadian provinces, would create North America’s biggest carbon market, three times larger than a utility-only system in 10 Northeastern states. By 2016, it is expected to handle trades of some $10 billion a year in carbon allowances.

But the California program is under court challenge by several groups that contend it will boost toxic air pollution in poor neighborhoods. A San Francisoco Superior Court judge issued an opinion in March saying that the state Air Resources Board did not adequately consider alternatives and "enjoining any further implementation of the measures" under the state's global warming plan until the board does so. A final order has yet to be issued, however. The Sierra Club’s call for Brown’s intervention comes as the air board is preparing to appeal the judge’s ruling. (clarification: an earlier version of this post said the judge put the program on hold.)

Brown spokesman Evan Westrup said in an email, “The governor will carefully examine the concerns raised by the Sierra Club and looks forward to working with them and other stakeholders in making sure that AB 32 is properly and vigorously implemented.”

Air Board chair Mary Nichols said: “We have no direction at this point to scrap or modify the cap-and-trade program, but we are also still working on a number of key elements… I would not be surprised if the governor wanted to weigh in on any of those items. But as for now we continue to fully implement the provisions of AB 32…. We are proceeding toward a January 2012 start.”

The Sierra Club challenge to Brown aligns one of the state’s most powerful advocacy organizations with “environmental justice” groups, such as  lawsuit plaintiffs Communities for a Better Environment and the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment.  The trading program has split the environmental  movement, as groups with closer ties to the corporate community, including the Environmental  Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council, strongly support the cap-and-trade approach.

“It would be a mistake to re-evaluate California’s groundbreaking plan to limit pollution,” said Derek Walker, EDF’s director of Strategic Climate Initiatives. “Our cap-and-trade program will complement and strengthen the innovative clean energy policies that Gov. Brown and the vast majority of Californians support."

RELATED:

Judge to place California global warming program on hold

California's would-be carbon traders get the jitters

California group forms to support state's global warming law

--Margot Roosevelt

Photo: Environmental justice groups fear that oil refineries, such as this Valero refinery in Wilmington, Calif., will be able to purchase offsets for their carbon emissions, rather than cut their own pollution. Credit: Christina House/Los Angeles Times

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